This month’s issue kicks off with an overview of releases from the recent PBS series American Epic and American EpicSessions, plus new releases from pioneers of rap and rock: Jay-Z’s 4:44 and the late Chuck Berry’s final album, Chuck.
In honor of Leontyne Price’s 90th birthday, we’re featuring Decca’s new deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Also under classical music is string trio Hear in Now’s new project Not Living In Fear.
First broadcast as a 3-part, 3.5-hour documentary on PBS, “American Epic” explores the beginning of regional commercial recording in the U.S. The program’s premise and logo is these early recording field trips resulted in “the first time American heard itself,” a somewhat grandiose claim. Along with the TV mini-series, Sony released a 100 song, 5-CD box set of newly-transferred/newly-restored vintage recordings, organized by recording locations, plus a single-CD soundtrack album, covering only recordings used in the TV programs. And, taking advantage of a fully-restored vintage recording system, the films’ producers teamed up with producer T. Bone Burnett and musician/producer/entrepreneur Jack White to stage a series of recording sessions in a Los Angeles studio with performances by a wide assortment of contemporary musicians. Those recordings, transferred from the lacquer discs on which they were inscribed, are collected in “The American Epic Sessions” 2CD set. A two-hour documentary, covering some of these recording sessions and detailing the vintage recording equipment, was also broadcast on PBS.
In 1926, Western Electric developed an electrical recording system, which quickly replaced the acoustic (“screaming into a horn”) systems that had used sound-pressure energy to cut grooves into cylinders and discs up to that point. With Western Electric’s system, sound waves hitting a microphone created an electrical current, which was then amplified by a 6-foot rack of tube electronics, and used to drive an electro-magnetic cutting stylus, which cut grooves onto wax blanks. The system used in “The American Epic Sessions,” lovingly restored and expertly operated by engineer Nicholas Bergh, cuts onto lacquer discs.
The key take-aways relevant to this project: the Western Electric recording system was portable, and at the time it was developed, radio was killing the commercial record business. During the acoustic era, record companies had concentrated on urban-centric popular “dance band” music and formal classical recordings. But the U.S. was a regional and tribal country at the time, and local music genres and styles remained local. Desperate for new record-buying customers, the record companies sent electrical recording systems and crews out into the land, searching for new musicians and musical styles in hopes of “the next big thing” that radio didn’t offer.
A typical recording trip would include a blitz of advertising in local newspapers and word-of-mouth announcements at general stores and post offices, offering local musicians a chance to make a record. The musicians would flock to a central location, such as a disused hat factory in Memphis or a hotel in San Antonio, for recording sessions. Through this process, the genres of country/hillbilly, Delta blues, Tejano, and Hawaiian music gained national distribution and influence. Some big stars emerged, like country music legends The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers and Tejano pioneer Lydia Mendoza. Many other recordings, by artists such as Dock Boggs, Willie Brown and especially Robert Johnson, didn’t sell well in their day but were incredibly influential on later musicians and musical genres. Other artists such as Charley Patton, the Memphis Jug Band, and even Hopi Indian Chanters, enjoyed regional success and years of fruitful recording sessions.
The “American Epic” documentary and the 5-CD set concentrate the regional styles and genres. The documentary is divided into 3 parts, with each focusing on a handful of artists and songs. Herculean efforts were made to track down descendants or first-person associates of the original artists, and their stories bring life to the people behind the old records. The filmmakers concentrated on the music, and avoided the dull academic tone that slows down too many PBS programs. There is a nerdy hip-ness to the whole project, and the technical details of the early recording process are explained enough for a casual music-oriented viewer to understand by not descending too far in the weeds. Above all, these stories tie together music, people and places.
Recording location rather than music type or artist divides the 5-CD set. This makes for more interesting listening, because each of the CDs is its own “mix tape” of genres and artists, alike only in that they were recorded in a particular region of the U.S., and even then not in a single location or studio. That said, the sequencing choice makes more difficult comparisons of artists within a single genre.
Engineer Nicholas Bergh, using a system he developed based on his understanding of the original recording process, transferred all of the recordings used in the CD box. A quick comparison of previous reissues of a handful of tunes indicates that Bergh was able to squeeze more fidelity and musical content from the discs, varying from a shade better to much better. It’s worth noting that there is a good bit of overlap between the “American Epic” box set and the classic “Anthology of American Folk Music,” so one can compare the transfer technology and aesthetic evolution over the past 50+ years. There is also some overlap with various Yazoo collections, not surprising since Yazoo owner Richard Nevins contributed rare records from his collections and is thanked in the liner notes.
For a person interested in the true roots of what today is called “roots” music, as well as the original Delta style of blues, and the history of what became country music, this set is invaluable. In some cases, this is the first opportunity to clearly hear the musical subtleties and even decipher the lyrics, since the day the discs were cut. The amply illustrated booklet includes printed lyrics and as close to a first-person description of each artist as the producers were able to find.
“The American Epic Sessions” is a bit more of a creative-license undertaking. The documentary producers were clearly enamored with Bergh’s restored recording system, so the logical thing to do, with music-industry bigwigs like Burnett and White involved and a documentary crew in tow, was bring some modern musicians in and cut some 78s. The results are mixed, musically, and the listener must accept the somewhat low-fidelity sound quality captured in the lacquers, but the exercise was net-net successful. I recommend the video documentary over the 2CD music-only set, because it’s interesting to watch modern musicians, accustomed as they are to endless re-takes and overdubs, adjust to the antique one-mic/one-take recording process. Suffice to say, some adapt better than others, but all were able to wax a successful side or two.
Overall, the “American Epic” project was an important undertaking, introducing some seminal music to a new audience in a sound quality not heard before, and bringing life to the musical and recording pioneers who first spread the American musical vernaculars out of their local wellsprings. The “Sessions” video and audio aptly demonstrates the conditions and limitations of the early electrical recordings.
Editor’s note: There is also a separate hardcover book, American Epic: When Music Gave America Her Voice, written by series producer Allison McGourty and director Bernard MacMahon, with Elijah Wald (Touchstone, 288 pages). According to colleague Steve Ramm, there is little crossover in terms of illustrations and content between this book and the one accompanying the Sony box set. Please note that the book’s title is listed variously on other sites as American Epic: The First Time America Heard Itself and American Epic: Companion to the TV Series. Also, there have been hints from some quarters that a director’s cut of the PBS series will be issued on Blu-ray later this year, so you may wish to hold off on your purchase of the version covered here. For various compilations associated with the series (but NOT remastered) see our June 2017 Releases of Note.
When RZA, leader of the iconic east coast group Wu-Tang Clan, endorses an upcoming album, rap fans from all directions are bound to take notice. On May 24, SZA found herself in the driver’s seat of anticipation alley when her album announcement date dropped in the form of a voiceover message overlaid onto SZA visuals via Top Dawg #TDE’s Twitter. Fans of the New Jersey singer responded to Ctrl with unbridled respect, resulting in a #3 spot on Billboard 200 Chart a mere 10 days after its June 9th release. Signed to Top Dawg Entertainment in 2013, Ctrl is SZA’s debut studio album featuring fellow Top Dawg artists Kendrick Lamaar and Isaiah Rashad in addition to The Y’s James Fauntleroy. Classed as an R&B and Neo Soul artist, SZA continues to dominate, garnering to date over 49 million album streams and more than 24 thousand CD purchases.
Bringing her own style of bluesy vocals to the table, SZA both croons and rasps out her heart-felt regret of long-gone-wrong in almost every song on the album. The collection’s opening track, “Supermodel,” models to the letter the back-and-forth emotions of a recent breakup, alternatively threatening revenge—“I’ve been secretly banging your homeboy”—while pleadingly begging for another chance—“I could be your supermodel if you believe, if you see it in me.”
Travis Scott picks up the story with his opening lines on “Love Galore,” seducing with his mellow “I need, I need” that almost has us believing things will work out as SZA answers with “Long as we got, Love, Love, Love.” But as the track unfolds, the relationship portrayed unravels to a thin, forgotten thread. “Doves in the Wind” showcases SZA’s vocal expertise as she melodically jumps from note to note to effortless ease, finding her own voice of self-empowerment and determination within the “sorry about your luck” lyricism.
While the rest of the album features many moments where SZA’s dreamy voice soothes regardless of the song pockets of regret, two solo tracks—“Drew Barrymore” and “20 Something” —provide a deep, introspective look into the mind of someone who’s not only wondering what went wrong, but also what can still go right. The tempos are winding, the poetics are heart-rending, and the reminiscence lingers long after SZA’s voice drifts off with the final notes.
Ctrl does exactly what RZA promises—drama is cut loose and karma is claimed—resulting in the utmost respect for SZA’s control of what promises to be a long career to come.
A few weeks back, prior to the announcement of a new record, I had a convo with the homie Langston Wilkins (@StreetfolkLCW) and the topic of Jay-Z came up. I must admit I was wondering essentially “What more does Jay-Z have to say at this point? Unless he was going to focus on, say, a skills-based album, it would almost be a lost cause.” My question was answered in spades with the release of 4:44.
As you may have seen from my review of Tribe’s We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service, I struggle with the whole “Rap music is a young man’s game” motif. To be honest, I largely believe that to be the case. I cannot tell you how annoyed I get hearing folks from my generation or prior hounding young people about how “horrible” their music is. I don’t quite get how people from my generation don’t recognize the cycle at this point. It’s my belief that Migos’ music is simply not made for my generation of rap fans, much the same as it was for rap fans of the generation before me. Do you really feel like hardcore Whodini fans were really feeling Bone Thugs-N-Harmony like that? My guess is no, and that’s okay.
Jay-Z’s new album comes into the conversation on a platform of an artist who has achieved “God” status in the game, but hasn’t made “relevant” music in a bit. While Magna Carta Holy Grail, was definitely better than Kingdom Come, it still did not have the impact of The Black Album. But this is typical of the rap game, as up to this point we have not seen many rappers age and remain relevant on the level of Jay-Z fame. Married to the one of the biggest pop stars of his generation and regularly appearing on the entertainer’s Forbes list, Jay-Z is in a different category as a celebrity. In his case, it almost seems like a risk to put out material that might be seen as lukewarm and/or “safe” in terms of legacy. Luckily for us and Jay-Z, nothing about 4:44 seems “safe” and it thankfully yields impressive results.
4:44 is set off excellently with “Kill Jay-Z,” a track that according to the artist himself was meant to kill his own ego in order to be open on the record: “Cry Jay-Z/we know the pain is real/but you can’t heal/what you never reveal.” This is an artist that recognizes the role he plays as a leader among hip hop fans and does not plan on wasting the platform. This track is followed by “The Story of OJ,” which has garnered a lot of attention due to its music video containing images of animated black caricatures comparable to those made infamous in pre-1960s America. Using a Nina Simone sample as a backdrop, the track details how Jay-Z’s thoughts on wealth have changed over the years. In particular, he takes a minute to detail a real estate deal he wishes he’d taken years ago. These moments illustrate a major focus on the album—Jay-Z is grappling with how to teach the black community at large the lessons he’s learned. You also hear elements of this in the album’s closing track, “Legacy,” which begins with his daughter Blue Ivy asking “Daddy what’s a will?” and Jay-Z discussing what he truly wants his legacy to entail for his children.
A large amount of buzz surrounding the album has centered on the title track “4:44.” The track is Jay-Z’s response to the implication of his affair revealed on Beyoncé’s magnum opus, Lemonade. Jay-Z confirms the suspicions and apologizes for his indiscretions: “I apologize/often womanized/took for my child to be born/to see through a woman’s eyes.” Producer NoID laces Jay properly here with an excellently flipped sample of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations “Late Nights and Heartbreak,” a track dealing with the difficulties of relationships. I’m not sure if there has been a tit for tat on the perspective of active artists detailing their relationship on this level since Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham during Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors period.
My favorite track of the album has to be “Smile.” On the production side, it is my favorite beat on the record. It excellently flips a sample of Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s In Need of Love Today” to amazing effect, accenting Stevie’s clavinet and choir vocals with 808 snares and bass drum hits. This creates a moody setting in which Jigga lets loose on a variety of topics. Speaking to his feelings about his mother’s struggle with her own choices, Jay-Z closes the track with a guest appearance from her that is about as real as it gets. He also addresses his own struggles with public acceptance: “Oh y’all thought I was washed/I’m at the cleaners/laundering dirty money/like the teamsters.” This line felt like a direct response to doubters like myself and trust me, it was heard.
4:44 finds Jay-Z at his most vulnerable on wax in years, yet still with a swagger that is becoming of an elder statesman. The production duties on the album were handled with aplomb by NoID, who after this release will hopefully receive some of the recognition he’s deserved for years.
For all of my “young man’s game” rambling, this is an example of what a “grown man” can do with the artform. Jay-Z’s status allows him to speak and be heard. In return, he uses the platform to not only make great art, but also pass down lessons on the importance of wealth and support of other black people and businesses. 4:44 puts to rest any of my concerns about what over-40 rap artists are capable of.
Chuck Berry is, without question, the Father of Rock and Roll, and perhaps the most influential guitarist of the 20th century. After 40 years without a new release, he announced his new album, Chuck, on his 90th birthday. Unfortunately, he passed in March of 2017 before he could see the project come to fruition. Clocking in at a short 34 minutes, the album nevertheless packs a punch. The first pair of songs, “Wonderful Woman” and “Big Boys,” are arguably the best. They’re rock and roll to the core, and Berry shows from the start that he’s still got it. This energy is steady throughout the album, even on slower tracks like “You Go to My Head” and “Eyes of Man.”
Chuck is a family affair, featuring his children Charles Berry Jr. and Ingrid Berry as part of his backing band. His grandson, Chuck Berry III, is also featured as a guest on “Lady B. Goode,” which is a sequel to the 1958 hit “Johnny B. Goode.” Compared to the original, this version is a bit slower, but no less fun. Perhaps the most tender track on the album is the bluesy father-daughter duet “Darlin,” the video for which was released in time for Father’s Day:
Also featured on the album are guitarists Gary Clark Jr. (“Wonderful Woman”), Tom Morello, and Nathaniel Rateliff (“Big Boys”). These guest appearances are a testament to the influence that Berry has had not only on rock and roll, but on popular music more broadly. With his musicianship, signature guitar riffs, and his stance, Berry has influenced countless musicians. On this final album, Berry cements his legacy as musician, storyteller, and one of the greatest to ever do it.
The members of Snarky Puppy have attained quintessential listening status for many in jam band, jazz-fusion, and groove-rock circles. Members of this group and musicians closely associated with them tend to have a distinctive “sound,” one which draws heavily from jammy fusion and incorporates elements of world music. Strange Circles, the debut release from Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League’s new side project Bokanté falls comfortably into the world music mold.
League swaps his bass for a baritone guitar on Strange Circles, and is joined by two Snarky Puppy band mates, Chris McQueen and Bob Lanzetti. The group also includes percussionists Jamey Haddad, André Ferrari, and steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier. Vocalist/songwriter Malika Tirolien rounds out the group, delivering original songs she and League co-wrote. Tirolien, a native of the Caribbean island Guadeloupe, sings a veritable chorus of thickly arranged multi-track vocals in Creole and French throughout the album.
Even though most of the album prep was completed remotely, this band’s playing is fluid. This may be due to the musicians’ skill or the tight arrangements, but at any rate it is a testament to what real pros can do in collaboration. The percussionists create powerful layers of rhythm throughout the record and the guitar quartet complements this with complex harmonies, making guitar interplay a highlight of this album. Collier’s steel guitar playing is especially worth listening carefully to — he takes a number of compelling solos, on cuts like ¨Jou Ké Ouvé” and ¨O La,” where his pedal steel almost sounds like the many vocal layers that permeate the album. The other guitarists mostly stick to riffing, but the song “Vayan” features dueling guitar solos, on a cut that sounds like an Afrobeat reading of Led Zeppelin.
One thing that the careful listener quickly learns about with Strange Circles is that the band’s approach to creating musical interest depends on two things: scaffolding layers of vocals and instruments and Collier’s steel guitar entering at dramatic moments. This is a winning formula, but it is systematic nonetheless — listeners will likely be quick to learn the build-breakdown-build approach that permeates most of the songs on this album. Collier ends up being the star of the show on most tracks, in part due to the timing of his entrances and in part due to his lyricism. It would be easy to draw comparisons between his fluidity on steel and blues/rock/world fusion guitarist Derek Trucks’s lyrical slide guitar. A few songs do break with the build-breakdown-build form, however: “Apathie Mortelle” burns slow, with excellent ambience playing by the guitarists, relying on chorus-drenched chords and controlled feedback to play off of the intricate layers of voice and percussion. The album’s closer, “Héritier,” is an acoustic and synth-driven ballad that stills the energy of some of the disc’s more frenetic moments.
I wish that English lyric translations were available for those listening to the digital versions of this album, particularly given the Creole dialect that many the lyrics on this album are composed in. As a monolingual English speaker reviewing the digital copy of this album, it was difficult for me to difficult to understand and thus comment on the poetry or lyrical themes. But that aside, Strange Circles is full of compelling music that is certainly worth a listen for fans of genre-bending grooves.
Artist: Hear in Now (Mazz Swift, Tomeka Reid & Silvia Bolognesi)
Label: International Anthem; dist. Redeye
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: June 2, 2017
Formed in 2009 through a commission from WomaJazz, the string trio Hear in Now features New York violinist Mazz Swift, Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid, and Italian double bass player Silvia Bolognesi. Individually the three women have performed and recorded with artists ranging from jazz musicians Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Butch Morris to rappers Common, Jay-Z and Kanye West.
On their second studio album, Not Living in Fear, the trio displays their affinity for free jazz and the avant-garde across 13 tracks of original music composed variously by members of the group. The project is a natural fit for the International Anthem label, dedicated to promoting boundary-defying recordings and occurrences of creative music in Chicago and beyond. Through the label’s sponsorship, we’re now able to appreciate these works, recorded by HiN in 2012 and 2014.
Rather than easing into the album with a more accessible work, the trio fearlessly opens with “Impro 3.” The track builds slowly over long, sustained harmonies punctuated by a flurry of glissandos that provide a sense of foreboding as they lead to a freely improvised and frenzied climax. This is followed by “Leaving Livorno,” a more melodic work with a yearning quality that features a jazzy interplay between cello and violin. “Requiem for Charlie Haden,” composed by Bolognesi, is dedicated the late jazz bass player who died two months prior to this recording session. Bolognesi adds a touch of free jazz to the bass line and takes an extended solo, but otherwise incorporates Haden’s penchant for blending simple melodies with classical harmonies.
Chicago jazz vocalist Dee Alexander is featured on the title track. Reid frequently performs with Alexander, so it’s fitting that they collaborated on this composition. To say this song is a highlight feels like a bit of a cop out, given its broader appeal, but I make no apologies. Clearly it was sequenced at the album’s midpoint to provide a bit of breathing room, and displays the trio’s extensive background in jazz (all have various jazz side projects).
Throughout the album, the three musicians employ extended playing techniques. For example, col legno and other percussive effects are used in “Transiti” to emulate the chugging rhythm of a train, and the opening of “Terrortoma” is punctuated by an ominous thumping reminiscent of the sound of advancing soldiers. But these techniques are never overused; each composition offers multiple sections and thematic complexity.
Not Living in Fear is a courageous album, brilliantly performed by three very accomplished women. They may frequently present concerts in museums, but the museum analogy often applied to classical music is certainly not relevant. Instead, HiN challenges us to hear the music of the present, defined in their own terms.
Blowing past the mouthpiece and producing train whistle-like chords, Fabrizio Poggi masterfully creates a sonic image on his harmonica of a train blowing steam as Guy Davis boldly strums on his acoustic guitar during the introduction of “Sonny and Brownie’s Last Train.” This original composition by Davis pays homage to the great mid-twentieth century Piedmont blues duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Terry and McGhee drew inspiration from early folk-blues figures such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, Josh White, and John Lee Hooker and were also associated with the left-wing folk movement.
This 12-track album of acoustic blues studio sessions was recorded live in Milan, Italy and features songs written by McGee and Terry including “Walk On,” “Evil Hearted Me,” and “Hooray, Hooray These Women are Killing Me.” Davis and Poggi also cover a number of blues greats from Jimmy Oden’s “Going Down Slow” to Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train,” as well as familiar traditional songs like “Take This Hammer,” “Shortnin’ Bread,” and “Midnight Special.”
Special attention should be paid to the technical musical nuances during these live recordings. Of particular interest is Poggi’s emulation of Terry’s whooping and hollering between harmonica riffs for an added soulful effect. As well, Davis embraces the storytelling tradition in his performances inspired by the work of Blind Willie McTell and Big Bill Broonzy.
After a music career spanning over two decades, this commemorative album marks Guy Davis’ 14th recording. Reflecting on this latest work, Davis explains, “Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry were two musicians whose work will not be surpassed, let alone improved on. This musical opus was produced by Fabrizio Poggi. It features our combined musical talents, and is not meant to compete with the originals. It’s meant to be a love letter to Brownie and Sonny signed by the both of us. They were two of my favorites.”
Sonny & Brownie’s Last Train is certainly worth giving a listen, not only to hear expertly executed blues techniques on the harmonica and acoustic guitar, but to witness an excellent and historically significant collection of standard blues and traditional music.
Anita Wilson has been a rising star in gospel music since her 2013 debut album, Worship Soul. Wilson has established herself as an artist who is adept at blending traditional gospel with old school R&B and soul sounds to create new and fresh music for contemporary listeners. Her latest project Sunday Song continues in this vein, featuring newly composed selections as well as several covers. Donald Lawrence’s ensemble The Company, Wilson’s former group, provides the background vocals on the album. While many of these tunes will be great for Sunday church worship, Wilson emphasizes that this album is meant to foster spiritual engagement beyond religious walls. She states, “God is everywhere we are, we can always have a Sunday song in our hearts.”*
One of the opening songs of the album is the single, “I’ve Seen Him Work.” This inspirational selection channels the sounds of R&B dance tunes (e.g. Luther Vandross**) and gospel choir songs of the 1980s. Rhythmic piano and bass establish a groove, which is joined by punctuating horns and drums showcasing a jaunty back beat, making this a fun and danceable track. The lyrics encourage listeners to maintain faith in God because “He’s in control” and He is “working it out.”
Wilson continues to draw on musical influences from yesteryear with the selection “Don’t Have to Travel Far.” This beautiful ballad is a worship-filled love song to God. It opens with strings, drums, and soft, repeated piano chords under girding the tender melody performed on an electric guitar. Purposefully, the accompaniment is reminiscent of 1970s R&B ballads like the Stylistic’s “You Make Me Feel Brand New.” Wilson celebrates her relationship with God with The Company supporting her sweetly: “Don’t have to travel far/ to be right where you are./You are constantly in my heart./ There’s no place I’d rather be/ than in your company,/ you mean more than life to me.”
Sunday Song’s traditional gospel and gospel covers are also especially noteworthy. “The New Church Medley” is string of both old and newly composed up-tempo call and response congregational songs which all ramp up to the popular church tune, “Great Things/I’ll Say Yes to My Lord.” For this heavy hitting number, Wilson is joined by singer Tommie White and vocal powerhouse Yolanda Adams who passionately improvise during the vamp. In a different light, Wilson has also transformed some gospel favorites like Richard Smallwood’s anthem “Total Praise.” She eschews a conventional, stately performance featuring dark, bold vocal production (with heavy vibrato) and string orchestration for a paired down contemporary praise and worship style. Wilson reworks the melody and softens the accompaniment transforming the chorus of “Total Praise” into a contemplative yet earnest meditation on faith.
Sunday Song is a wonderful summer treat for gospel lovers everywhere. It’s a wonderful blend of older secular styles, traditional gospel music, with timeless lyrics that are sure to inspire listeners to sing, dance, and have faith.
*Quote taken from an on-air interview with Detroit, MI radio personality Randi Myles.
**Wilson suggested the music of Luther Vandross influenced the creation of this song in an on-air interview with radio personality Erica Campbell.
Michigan-based rapper Steven Malcolm released his self-titled debut album, Steven Malcolm, and as the much-publicized first release states, Malcolm is truly this moment’s “Hot Boy.” Rapzilla.com had the foresight to nominate him as their 2015’s Best New Artist, and the day after its release, his album shot into the top 15 of the ITunes/Hip Hop Chart. Soon after, ESPN signed the Hot Boy’s debut single for use in future NBA game coverage. None of this comes as a surprise to fans of other rappers such as Grammy winner Lecrae, KB and Andy Mineo, as Malcolm has been on the Christian hip hop/rap radar for years now. It’s obvious he has the potential to chart onto mainstream hip hop/rap as well, as his entire album’s lyrical and musical content speaks to the current generation through empowering references of God and self alike.
The 13-album set is a mix of both slow, melodic satire and upbeat, feel-good beats that showcase hip hop as its best—pounding downbeats and lyrical composition calling to both its listeners’ activist side while entertaining with a club-like, social vibe. Each song opens with its own unique riff, straight-up announcing mood and tone in a no-holds-barred fashion. “Hot Boy”’s 4-chord keyboard intro in minor key is overlaid with a vintage LP crackle, showcasing the track’s ultra-confident presence of its lead role on the album. A second 4-chord riff juxtaposed against “Fire”’s abrupt, digitized chord and subsequent echoes provide a throw-out to Malcolm’s Jamaican roots, as a distinctive reggae style dominates the entire composition.
Andy Mineo and former American Idol contestant Hollyn weigh in on one of the album’s party-rap vibe, “Party in the Hills,” while Blanca adds her own style to Malcolm’s other R&B/rap mix, “Never Let You Go.” “What Was You Thinking” makes light use of error sounds for its dominant chordal strain, similar to methodology J. Dilla used in his album Doughnuts, and the satirical poetics of “Cereal” pertain to not only breakfast choices, but also the positive end game results from choices that take one from “Growing up, I could only have some in the morning” to a “But now it’s whenever” lifestyle.
The diverse musical stylings and driving lyricism make for an exciting rap collection debut, and if this album is any indication, Steven Malcolm will continue to represent as one of the genre’s Hot Boys for many fiery moments to come.
In a little corner of Mississippi, the Como Mamas have performed traditional gospel since their youth growing up in the Jim Crow South. On their second album, Move Upstairs, they continue to share music from their rich heritage with a sweet power and joy that’s sure to inspire any listener.
While their first project, Get an Understanding, was a cappella, Move Upstairs features gospel favorites accompanied by understated instrumentation that’s stylistically reminiscent of the soul and gospel music popularized in the mid-twentieth century. Stand out selections include the title track “Move Upstairs” led by Della Daniels. Two of the members first recorded an a cappella version of this song on the Daptone compilation Como Now (2008). However, the new rendition features a groove undergirded by a walking bass that shapes this piece into an exciting declaration of faith. With a rich and smoky voice, Daniels sets the tone for the song, conveying intensity and excitement about her pending trip to heaven.
Fans of the trio will also certainly appreciate their version of the song “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” With only a bass drum and tambourine for accompaniment, the raw power of the group’s voices alone conveys their prayerful emotion. Lastly, the track “Count Your Blessings” is a noteworthy remake of Luther Barnes’ up-tempo contemporary gospel choir piece, “What the Lord Has Done,” into a laidback song of encouragement. With a rousing call and response interplay, the Como Mamas intimately convey their message. Moreover, the accompanying music video (above) imbues the group’s singing with bit of lightheartedness and reminds listeners to smile, dance, and practice gratefulness in every circumstance.
It’s been over forty years since Pieces of a Dream formed in Philly back in 1976—boy does time have a way of getting away from you when the musical quality is so sweet. Back in the day, the iconic jazz group included bassist Cedric Napoleon, drummer Curtis Harmon and keyboardist James Lloyd. While making their bones on the local jazz scene, Grover Washington Jr.–the ‘godfather’ of smooth jazz—took the three lads under his wing and taught them well.
Washington was a huge 76ers fan during the Moses Malone and Dr J. heyday, and at times would play his rendition of the national anthem on his sax. In 1983, the 76ers won the NBA championship. Moses Malone predicted a ‘fo,fo,fo ‘sweep, but instead, the team lost one game and it became the legendary ‘fo, five, fo’. Pieces of A Dream capitalized on 76ers mania and recorded a song titled, “Fo, Five, Fo”, which came to be known as their most successful single. “Mount Airy Groove” from the LP Imagine This another single was a staple at block parties that DJs would cut out to ample crowds. Now, it’s 2017 and POD is still on scene as a modern-day jazz duo due to Cedric Napoleon’s departure in 2001. Their new cd, Just Funkin’ Around, is POAD doing what they do best.
The collection is a ten track smooth-jazz-fan delight. The majority of the album blows out vintage POAD sound we all know and love, but the cut, “A New Day” is a change of pace for Pieces of a Dream that even I didn’t see coming. Nothing like a novel track to shake things up, and the group does it well. Perhaps Tony Watson Jr. on sax is the reason why? Watson also wrote the track “Manhattan”, which closes out the cd.
Pieces of a Dream isn’t trying to go hip on this CD. The artists know their lane and have no problem staying in it. After forty successful years in the game, who can argue their obviously skilled logic?
The familiar Alberta Hunter that emerged from two decades of retirement in 1977 was a very different artist from the Alberta Hunter that helped keep the race record market afloat in the early 1920s. Audiences in the ‘70s and ‘80s that flocked to Hunter’s latter day performances at the Cookery knew that she was a legend, but they were enthralled with her energy, experience, wit and mastery of phrasing. Such fans didn’t necessarily feel the need to revisit the ancient recordings that made Hunter a name. But there is every reason to investigate them, as Alberta Hunter wasn’t just another Vaudeville blues singer competing for parity with Clara Smith, Lucille Hegamin, Ethel Waters and, ultimately, Bessie Smith. She was a bellwether of a wide range of American popular song—ballads, blues, jazz, pop tunes and even purely sentimental fare.
In the mid-1990s the Document label in Austria issued four single discs comprising the better part of Alberta Hunter’s 78 rpm legacy, adding a fifth more recently, in addition to reissuing single Hunter items on compilations. Acrobat’s The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40 skims the Document issues, eliminating alternate takes and adding 11 of the 12 sides Hunter made in the UK with Jack Jackson’s Orchestra in 1934. The Jack Jackson sessions are declared “of no Blues interest” in older editions of the Godrich & Dixon Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1943, but nevertheless contain some Alberta Hunter performances of considerable merit.
Hunter’s early output makes for a fascinating case study in how a voice evolved side by side with developments in recording technology and currents in entertainment. Hunter made her recording debut at Black Swan in May 1921, perhaps the same day as Ethel Waters, and immediately produced a breakout hit, “How Long, Sweet Daddy, How Long?” though it would take her some time to second it. Hunter’s first great record, “Don’t Pan Me,” belongs to her third session and her first genuinely great blues performance, “Chirpin’ the Blues,” to her ninth. Some of the earliest material must’ve been a trial to record; a wayward clarinet in the first verse of “After All These Years” steps on every note Hunter is trying to sing, and in another spot an over-eager cornetist literally drowns her out. But in all of these sessions Hunter braved the storm with special enthusiasm, and that confidence eventually blossoms into mastery. Her early style once formed, to this reviewer, is addictive; Hunter’s rapid, assertive patter mixed with glissandi, gulps (an effect not lost on Libby Holman) and a quick, tasty vibrato which creeps into places where you’d never expect to find it, used in incredible variety.
Hunter also emphasizes clear diction, dropping out words rather than smearing them, and this may be of lesser appeal to listeners attuned to earthier voices like Ma Rainey. But Hunter wrote many of the songs that she recorded, and clearly wanted the words to be understood. With her first true electricals at Victor—the miserable sounding Okeh “TruTone” discs, though partly electric, do not count—Hunter is at some pains to avoid belting it out as she had for acoustics. By her 1927 session with Fats Waller—arguably her best accompanist overall—Hunter had electrical recording figured out, and began to exploit new aspects of her singing; lower registers and intimacy. It’s a shame that at this point her recording activity slows to a trickle, though that is in keeping with the fortunes of Vaudeville blues women on record across the board in the late ‘20s; Hunter had better luck in this respect than some. By the time of the Jack Jacksons, she’d had some singing lessons and was now rolling her “r’s,” watching her breath control and sustaining a longer line. Perhaps the effect is less “bluesy,” but these measures no doubt helped to preserve her voice and to make Hunter’s late career possible.
There are no production credits in the package, but it appears that the ‘naked’ material from Document has been put through some additional noise reduction processing. This helps in some cases, and is largely invisible, but is not so in Hunter’s first electrical session with pianist Mike Jackson. And there are places where really nothing can be done; the opening of “Vamping Brown” is musically unintelligible, with Fletcher Henderson’s piano registering only as noise from the badly worn, original 78 rpm disc. The Document issues were assembled from tapes canvassed from collectors 20 or more years ago, and in some cases it is possible that better specimens have been found in the interim; certainly there has got to be a better copy in this world of Hunter’s glorious 1923 rendering of “Loveless Love,” as it was issued on at least three 78 labels! On the other hand, for rare, unsuccessful records, copies used in this collection may still be the only ones known. Moreover, record collectors are not always apt at transferring discs, which may be why “Wasn’t It Nice?” sounds the way it does here.
Despite these drawbacks, The Alberta Hunter Collection 1921-40 might well be as ideal a survey of Hunter’s first two decades in recording—of a career that lasted six and half—as one could expect to enjoy under current circumstances. It has good notes by Paul Watts, the only person credited in the package, and full disclosure—Watts quotes from some fellow named “Uncle Dave Lewis.” But beyond Watts’ good taste in source material, the notes hit the high points of her career, both as a recording artist and as a live performer, and summarize in a concise way the titanic achievements of Alberta Hunter, whose own life story is as unlikely and astounding as her best singing is intoxicating and timeless.
Artist: Leontyne Price; Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma; Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Format: 2 CDs + 1 Blu-ray Audio (Deluxe Edition)
Release Date: June 30, 2017
On February 10, 2017, the great soprano Leontyne Price celebrated her 90th birthday. The occasion was marked by numerous articles, including an online tribute by NPR Classical, which referred to Price as the “first real [African American] superstar” who was “among the very best Verdi sopranos of her time.” In that article, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Tim Page offered the following thoughts on what he considered to be one of Price’s most notable recordings:
“In my opinion, still the best performance of Aida I know on record would be [Leontyne Price] with tenor Jon Vickers. There’s a sense of longing to it. There’s a real identification and loneliness, an ease in the high notes, as well as the medium range. There’s fierce musical intelligence and emotional intensity. The singing with Jon Vickers is extraordinary. There you had two spirits who were very much in alignment—the ferocity, the tenderness. It’s beautiful, it’s songful, it’s grand. It’s a marvelous statement from a great artist.”
The Aida referenced above was recorded in Rome in June and July, 1961, with the Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma conducted by Sir Georg Solti and featuring the “Verdi dream cast” of Price, Vickers, Robert Merrill, Rita Gorr, and Giorgio Tozzi. Produced by Richard Mohr with engineers Lewis Layton and René Boux, the RCA Living Stereo recording won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1962.
Price was at her peak during this period, in terms of both vocal prowess and international stardom, and by 1961 had been performing the role of Aida for several years. A few months prior, in January of 1961, she also made her début at the Metropolitan Opera House, where her legendary opening night performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore received a 42 minute standing ovation. This occurred six years to the month after Marian Anderson paved the way as the first black woman to sing at the Met.
In honor of Price’s 90th birthday, Decca just released a special deluxe edition of her 1961 recording of Verdi’s Aida. Though reissued numerous times over the years, many of these recordings have been criticized for poor sound quality, having been dubbed from LPs. This three disc set is newly remastered from original analog sources by former Decca engineer Paschal Byrne. Since CDs don’t support sampling rates greater than 44.1 kHz, the third disc is a Pure Audio Blu-ray featuring 96kHz/24-bit high fidelity sound. The hard-back edition includes liner notes by William Weaver, an essay on the recording by Richard Mohr, as well as the libretto and synopsis in English, German and French translations.
If you don’t already have one of the recent reissues of Leontyne Price’s 1961 Aida, then this deluxe edition is highly recommended if you have a Blu-ray player.
In the February issue we gave a brief preview of Concord Music Group’s year-long celebration of Stax Records 60th Anniversary, including the new compilation CDs paying tribute to the many iconic artists in the Stax roster. Now Concord has released the first of their Stax 60th anniversary remastered vinyl offerings—a 108 gram pressing of the original cast soundtrack album for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
As most already know, this landmark independent film was written, produced, scored, and directed by Melvin Van Peebles, who also portrayed Sweetback: “a black protagonist who not only overpowers the oppressive white cops, but he manages to get away with it.” Released in 1971, the film contributed to the creation of the Blaxploitation era and was promoted by the Black Panthers, who filled theaters with members for whom it was required viewing.
The soundtrack album, distributed prior to the release of the film to raise cash and garner publicity through airplay, was also notable for introducing an unknown group by the name of Earth, Wind & Fire. Van Peebles also performs as his alter ego, Brer Soul. Without the Sweetback soundtrack and contributions of EWF, who transformed Van Peebles hummed musical ideas into a funky soul-jazz score, the film may never have made it into theaters. And without Sweetback to pave the way, there may never have been a string of soulful ‘70s soundtracks scored by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Gene Page, Johnny Pate, James Brown, Roy Ayers, and Willie Hutch. As EWF’s Verdine White noted, “at the time there weren’t a lot of movies that had black music” (Quincy Jones was the only black composer with a string of film scores to his credit).
Concord’s 180-gram vinyl gatefold edition features audio remastered from the original analog tapes and cut on the original Stax lathe at Ardent studios in Memphis. Newly penned notes are provided by Jeff Weiss, who credits Van Peebles with the birth of “badass cinema” via a film “that captured the spirit of rebellion, frustration and the refusal to accept injustice.” Mario Van Peebles, whose 2003 film Baadasssss! chronicled the making of his father’s famous film, also reflects on the film’s profound influence in the liner notes.
Long out of print with the exception of foreign pressings, this remastered vinyl release of Sweetback belongs in everyone’s collection!
Editor’s note: Melvin Van Peebles has recently performed with other bands featured in Black Grooves, including the Heliocentrics.
More From The Other Side Of The Trax: Stax-Volt 45rpm rarities is the second volume of its kind from the Kent Soul imprint. This new compilation offers entry points for both the novice and hardcore collector, bringing together selections that have not been together in any capacity on CD up until this time.
For the novice, this is a mix of great tracks from early ‘60s rhythm and blues vein, as beginners may be familiar with artists such as Rufus Thomas and the Mar-Keys, both featured in multiple tracks. For dedicated fans, the collection offers numerous B-sides from the Stax “Blue” period (so named for the color of the label on the 45s during this period) that surprisingly were not present on the Complete Stax Volt Singles volume released in the 1990s.
Highlights of the arrangement include Rufus Thomas’ cover of Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” which illustrates Thomas’ proficiency as a jack of all trades. This track finds the artist, better known for his funky workouts, clearly in a blues mode but still giving a fantastic performance. The Mar-Keys, best known for their instrumental hit, “Last Night,” appear with a great set of tracks including “Grab This Thing Part 2”, which is as funky as they come.
William Bell, who is currently experiencing a renaissance in popularity, appears with a few tracks, as well. “Whatcha Gonna Do” hints at where Stax would go during its “Yellow” period with a funky soul orientation. Carla Thomas’ “Puppet” shows that contrary to popular belief, Stax was very much interested in pop appeal, as its string arrangement adds drama and “sweetening” to a great vocal performance by Ms. Thomas. Lesser-known early Stax acts such as Barbara and the Browns appear the tracks “I Don’t Want Trouble” and “You Make a Strong Girl Weak,” respectively sounding more like traditional rhythm and blues than the soul sound for which Stax would become known. On “Never Let You Go” by Carla & Rufus Thomas, you can almost hear the fun the father/daugher duo had performing together.
Rounded out with liner notes for each group written by Tony Rounce, More From The Other Side Of The Trax sheds some light on some great singles that have remained unavailable outside of their original vinyl release until now.
Following are additional albums released during June 2017—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country Big Joe Williams: Southside Blues (Rockbeat)
Blind Willie Johnson: American Epic – Best of Blind Willie Johnson (Third Man)
Cash Box Kings: Royal Mint (Alligator)
Jimmy Witherspoon: Live at the Renaissance & Monterey (Soul Jam)
Lead Belly: American Epic – Best of Lead Belly (Third Man)
Little Willie Farmer: I’m Coming Back Home (Wolf)
Memphis Jug Band: American Epic – Best of Memphis Jug Band (Third Man)
Mississippi John Hurt: American Epic – Best of Mississippi John Hurt (Third Man)
Skip James: Special Rider Blues, Early Recordings, 1931(Soul Jam)
Son House: Special Rider Blues, 1930-42 Mississippi & Wisconsin (Soul Jam)
Various: American Epic – Best of Blues (Third Man)
Willie Clayton: Crossroads of the Blues (Endzone Ent)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup: Rocks (Bear Family)
Benjamin Booker: Witness (ATO)
Chuck Berry: Chuck (Dualtone)
Denai Moore: We Used To Bloom (Because Music)
Junie Morrison: Junie – Complete Westbound Recordings 1975-76 (Westbound)
Merry Clayton: Gimme Shelter (reissue) (Real Gone Music)
Moniquea: Blackwavefunk (Fat Beats)
P.O.D.: Satellite (Atlantic)
Prince: Purple Rain (3 CD+DVD expanded ed.)(Warner Bros.)
Tackhead: Lost Tapes Vol. 1 (Echo Beach)
Terrence Parker: God Loves Detroit (Planet E Communications)
Valenti Funk: Valenti (Clear Zebra)
Gospel, Contemporary Christian B.B. King: Sings Spirituals (Soul Jam)
Earnest Pugh: Fully Persuaded (P-Man Group)
James Fortune & FIYA: Dear Future Me (eOne Music Nashville)
Patrick Hollis & United: Back Again (Ecko)
Preashea Hilliard: The Glory Experience (New Day Ent.)
Jazz Ambrose Akinmusire: A Rift In Decorum Live (Blue Note)
Amina Baraka & The Red Microphone: S/T (Forced Exposure)
Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Vol. 4 (Omnivore)
Barbara Morrison: I Wanna to be Loved (Savant)
Bert Myrick: Live ‘n Well (reissue )(BBE)
Binker and Moses: Journey to the Mountain of Forever (Gearbox)
Braxton Cook: Somewhere in Between (Fresh Selects)
Charles Mingus: Complete Birdland 1961-1962 Broadcasts (Solar)
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Centennial Trilogy 2 – Diaspora (Ropeadope)
Denys Baptiste: The Late Trane (Edition)
Adam Roger’s Dice: S/T (Adraj)
Dwight Trible with Matthew Halsall: Inspirations (Gondwana)
Irvin Mayfield & New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Live at Newport (Basin Street )
J.J. Johnson: Columbia Albums Collection: 1956-1961 (4 CDs)(Enlightenment)
Jackiem Joyner: Main Street Beat (Artistry Music )
James Brandson Lewis Trio: No Filter (BNS Sessions)
Jimmy Smith Trio: Complete 1957-1959 Sessions (Phono)
Jowee Omicil: Let’s BasH! (Jazz Village)
Julian Vaughn: Bona Fide (Trippin N’ Rhythm)
Kris Funn: Cornerstore (digital) (Kristopher Funn Music)
Latimore: A Taste of Me: Great American Songs (Essential Media Group)
Naturally 7: Both Sides Now (Warner)
Nina Simone: Complete 1959-61 Live Recordings (Essential Jazz Classics)
Quincy Jones: 20 Classic Albums (10 CD set) (Real Gone Jazz)
Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (ECM)
Summer of ’96: Splendid Things Gone Awry (RED)
Thelonious Monk & John Coltrane: Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings (100th Anniversary vinyl box set) (Craft)
Wynton Marsalis & Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra: Handful of Keys (Blue Engine)
Zem Audu: Spirits (Origin)
R&B, Soul Angela Bofill: I Try – Anthology 1978-1993 (Soul Music)
Beatles: Early Beatles Repertoire 1960-61 (Rhythm & Blues)
Brooks Long & The Mad Dog No Good: Mannish Boys (Morphius)
Cody ChesnuTT: My Love Divine Degree (Handwritten)
Coolee Bravo: 20 Minutes in Chicago EP (digital)
Eruption: Best of Eruption (expanded ed.) (BBR)
Felicia Temple: Balancing Act
Fred Wesley & the Generations: S/T (Minor Music)
H.E.R.: H.E.R. Vol. 2 (RCA)
Ideeyah: Brave (EVRY Music)
India.Arie: SongVersation: Medicine EP (digital)
Jay King: Helen’s Son (Expansion)
LaBelle: The Anthology (SoulMusic)
M.T.B.: It’s Meant to Be (eOne)
Mali Music: The Transition of Mali (ByStorm Ent./RCA )
Mike City: Presents the Feel Good Agenda Vol. 1 (BBE)
Ms. Irene Renee: Ubiquitous Soul (D.A.P.)
Ricky Latt: Welcome to Soulville (W.A.G.E. Ent)
Ronald Bruner, Jr.: Triumph (vinyl) (World Galaxy; Alpha Pup)
Rudy Ray Moore: Sensuous Black Man (1st CD reissue) (Dolemite)
Sly5thAve: Composite EP (digital) (Tru Thoughts)
Soul Understated: Songs in the Key of Grease (Shanachie)
TLC: TLC (852 MUSIQ)
Various: Nothing But a Houseparty – Birth of Philly Sound 1967-71 (Kent)
Various: Inner Peace: Rare Spiritual Funk & Jazz Gems (WeWantSounds)
Rap, Hip Hop Mozzy & Gunplay: Dreadlocks & Headshots (Real Talk Ent)
13 Boy’z: Last of a Dying Breed (East Town)
2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (Def Jam)
Abra: Princess EP (True Panther Sounds)
Aha Gazelle: Trilliam 2 (mix tape)(Reach)
Berner & Styles P: Vibes (Bern One Ent.)
Big Boi: Boomiverse (Epic)
Blacastan & Stu Bangas: Uncanny Adventures of Watson & Holmes (Brick)
Bleezo & Sav Sicc: Twin Evil 2 (Cway Muziccore)
Bone Thugs: New Wave (eOne)
Bryson Tiller: True to Self (RCA)
Chief Keef: Thot Breaker (RBC)
Da Buze Bruvaz: Adebisi Hat (Grilchy Party)
Dane Uno: Everything in the Dark Comes to the Light (Junkadelic Music)
DJ Khaled: Grateful (Epic)
Game Theory: 2 Steps From the Middle Ages (Omnivore)
Gensu Dean & Wise Intelligent: Game of Death (Mello Music)
Gunplay: The Plug (Real Talk Ent.)
Ice Cube: Death Certificate (25th anniversary ed.)(Cubevision)
Jarren Benton: The Mink Coat Killa (Benton Enterprise)
JL: Tech N9ne Present’s JL DIBKIS (Strange Music)
Joyner Lucas: 508-507-2209 (Atlantic)
Kero One & Azure: Kero & Azure (Plug)
Kool G Rap: Return of the Don (Clockwork Music)
Krayzie Bone: Eternal Legend (Real Talk Ent.)
Krayzie Bone & Young Noble: Thug Brothers 2 (Real Talk Ent.)
Mack Bone: What Y’all Want Me 2 Do? (Soundblanket)
Mazon: S/T (digital) (Mazon Music)
MC Eiht: Which Way Iz West (Year Round)
Monty: Monty Zoo II (RGF Productions)
Mr Capone-E: California Love – All Eyez on Me (Hi Power Ent.)
Propaganda: Crooked (Fair Trade)
Public Enemy: Nothing Is Quick in the Desert (free download)
Sadat X: Sum of a Man (vinyl) ( Dymond Mine)
Showbiz & A.G.: Take It Back (D.I.T.C.)
Stevie Stone: Level Up (Strange Music)
Stormzy: Gang Signs & Prayer (#Merky)
Twista: Crook County (GMG Ent.)
Various: Boombox 2: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro & Disco Rap 1979-83 (Soul Jazz)
Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (Def Jam)
Z-Ro: No Love Boulevard (1 Deep Ent.)
Reggae, Dancehall Ambassa: Ride the Samples (Wakeditown)
Ammoye: The Light (eOne Music Canada)
Bob Marley & Wailers: Lively Up Yourself: Roots of a Revolution 1967-71 (Wewantsounds)
World “Om” Alec Khaoli: Say You Love Me (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Kondi Band: Salone (Strut)
Oté Maloya: Birth of Electric Maloya on Réunion Island 1975-86 (Strut)
Songhoy Blues: Resistance (Fat Possum)
Sonia Aimy: Nigerian Spirit (Saimy’s Art)
Supercombo: Explorations (Z Production)
Tanzania Albinism Collective: White African Power (Six Degrees)
Various: Beating Heart – South Africa Vol. 1 (Beating Heart)
Various: John Armstrong presents Afrobeat Brasil (BBE)
Various: Pop Makossa: Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976 -84 (Analog Africa)